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You Are a Mercy-Bearer
Fourth Sunday after Trinity
July 9, 2017
You know how you feel when someone let’s you down. You can only imagine how you would feel if someone were to take the life of those closest to you. You know how you want to respond when you are demeaned. Even if you have been slighted in a small way or treated unfairly in a minor instance your urge is to be vindicated. You want the other person get their just recompense.
In the words of the Gospel reading Jesus speaks to us in an unrecognizable way from how we feel and what we think people ought to be repaid for their misdeeds. He speaks of mercy and forgiveness. Instead of judging and condemning he speaks of giving and letting go.
This way of living is foreign to us because it seems to ignore evil and the wrong things people do and the harm they do to us. It’s as if Jesus would have us let people walk all over us and do whatever they like and we just have to sit there and take it. And I suppose from our sinful nature’s perspective, that’s how it seems. It just doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem to put the holy and just God in a very good light.
But far from it, these words show us how just and holy the Triune God is. The Scriptures teach us that God is without sin and will not allow sinners into His presence for all eternity. His verdict was clear when we fell into sin, eternal damnation. But His nature is not simply that of holiness and justice. It is also grace and mercy. It is love and compassion.
Consider the words of Jesus in light of His very life. He who is God became a man. He who is above all became a servant of all. He who holds all power suffered Himself to be ridiculed and beaten. He who is eternal died on a cross. He who is without sin took upon Himself the sin of every person. He who has no guilt was punished in the place of the guilty.
There is absolutely nothing that someone could do to you that would compare to what Jesus endured. As it says in 1Peter 2, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” Jesus was without sin and could rightly have dealt out justice. But He endured the suffering.
Jesus came to earth bearing mercy. In the Gospel reading Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The Father’s mercy is enfleshed in Jesus. Jesus came to earth bearing the mercy of the Father. He did not revile in return because He entrusted Himself to the one who judges justly. As we hear in John 3, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” Mercy instead of condemning. Forgiveness instead of judgment. Jesus bore in Himself the condemnation and judgment that we may receive mercy and forgiveness.
When you are reviled or mistreated you are in a position to live as Christ lived. Certainly, if you act in such a way that is contrary to God’s will as expressed in the Ten Commandments then you ought to expect people to treat you accordingly. But if you are ill-treated through the sinful actions of others then you are given the grace of loving others as Christ has loved you. Seeing them as Christ sees them. Acting for their good as Christ has acted for their good. Bearing mercy to them as Christ has borne mercy to them.
The words of Jesus are specific. They concern how you ought to treat others. Jesus is not speaking here of whether or not people ought or will suffer the consequences of their evil actions. Thus, if someone has stolen from you, they ought to pay the penalty under the law. But who are you to withhold forgiveness from them? If someone harms you or your loved ones, they ought to endure the punishment allowed by the law for what they have done. But how can you not show mercy to them?
Those who are in authority are the ones charged with delivering punishment for various infractions of the law. But you are given by God the call to bear with others when they sin against you. You are to forgive them and show kindness to them. Jesus came as a mercy-bearer, you also are a mercy-bearer. You have no right to withhold mercy from someone when the very Lord has died for their sins. You rather have the blessing of showing them love that is beyond the capacity for the sinful flesh, mercy that forgives and extends kindness and help.
Are you in any better position than the one who has harmed you? Can you really stand above them so as to stand in judgment of them? No, Jesus says that when you see the speck in their eye you ought to remain silent while you first attend to getting the log out of your own eye. Only then, He says, will you be able to see clearly the speck that is in their eye. And when you do it will be with the humility of one who knows that you yourself have a log that is in your eye and are in greater need of mercy and forgiveness than they are.
This is not a fantasy. It is tough stuff. Forgiving is hard. Showing mercy is hard. Being kind is hard. Jesus is not calling you to something that is easy but hard. It is a life in which you beat down your sinful flesh. This is what it means to live in your Baptism. The way the New Testament describes living the Baptismal life is living in Christ. It is living according to your new nature, not your old sinful nature. Living in Christ means you deny yourself, your desire for retaliation and retribution and people getting what they deserve. It is living in Christ; loving, forgiving, mercy-bearing.
In Baptism your sinful flesh was crucified. How can you still live in it? Living in your Baptism means you are living in Christ. How can you really wish for others to get their comeuppance? Shouldn’t you rather wish that they repent and be forgiven and share with you in a life in which you are bearing mercy instead of retaliation?
One thing that helps you see the perspective Jesus is talking about is reading the Word of God. The more you read the Word of God the more you see that it is filled with stories of sinners. And these are not people described as good people who mess up now and then. These are people who keep messing up, keep trying God’s patience, keep treating His commandments as suggestions. But what does God do? He forgives. He bears with them. He is merciful to them.
He sends His Son to them. He places all of their sin, guilt, and shameful acts on the shoulders of His Son and He dies for all of them. There’s really no other way to see God than through His Son. Otherwise He is simply holy, just, and full of retribution and condemnation. But in His Son He is merciful. He is forgiving. He gives you salvation and then a life in which you go out and bear with others. You show them mercy and kindness and a way that is straight from the eternal heart of God. Amen.